It didn’t take long for Mike Gelastopoulos to learn how much Kuhl’s Restaurant once meant to downtown Lincoln — he’s hearing it just about every day from his customers when he introduces himself to them.
“They ask ‘Are you Greek?’ and then proceed to tell me the Kuhl’s story,” said Gelastopoulos, who operates the new Flapjacks American Diner at 230 N. 12th St. “It’s getting kind of funny, actually.”
Kuhl’s Restaurant opened in 1968, with the original owners, Kurt and Pearl Kuhl, selling it Pete and Stella Hametis in 1985. Of Greek heritage, the Hametises continued what the Kuhls started for another 23 years, adding some Greek dishes to the menu.
Flapjacks, too, has its share of Greek entrees to go with breakfast and lunch fare typical of a mom-and-pop diner, with "90 to 95 percent of it made from scratch."
“So yes, I’ve heard about Kuhl’s,” Gelastopoulos said. “I’ve gotten the scoop and everything.”
Gelastopoulos came to Lincoln four months ago from Clearwater, Florida, where he ran a bar and grill, specifically to open a restaurant.
“Omaha and Lincoln are two cities booming in terms of economic growth,” he said.
He targeted downtown Lincoln because of its many businesses and its proximity to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and state offices.
Gelastopoulos originally planned to open a Mad Mike’s Burgers & Fries, a gourmet burger franchise he founded in 2011 in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky, but when he discovered downtown lacked a non-chain diner, he changed course.
“To not have a diner in a downtown of this caliber … it just blew my mind,” he said.
He's right. There aren’t many options for eggs, pancakes and biscuits and gravy downtown outside of the chain, The Egg & I; the weekend breakfast service at Green Gateau and the hotels. And there really hasn’t been since Kuhl’s closed in 2008.
Gelastopoulos opened Flapjack’s Dec. 18 where Dempsey’s Burger Pub used to be. Most Lincoln diners remember the site as home to Spaghetti Works for more than 30 years.
Flapjacks is open daily at 7 a.m., with its entire menu available until close at 3 p.m. Gelastopoulos said he hopes to introduce 24-hour service on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays in a month or so.
The breakfast menu features “themed” skillets (Mexican, Greek, Irish, Husker, etc.), omelets, biscuits and gravy, pancakes and French toast and specialty entrees such as eggs Benedict and country fried steak, with prices ranging from $5.99 (short stack) to $12.99 (steak and eggs). Many of the dishes are served with a side of hash browns and toast.
I ordered a Husker B&G Special ($9.99), a half-size biscuits and sausage gravy with hash browns and two eggs served on a second plate. The thick gravy proved to be one of the better ones I've had.
My wife went with the "traditional" eggs Benedict ($10.99), and though she enjoyed it, it wasn't traditional. It included American cheese and the eggs were quick fried rather than poached.
Gelastopoulos didn’t open a Mad Mike’s Burgers, but he put five gourmet burgers from the restaurant on his menu. Like the skillets, they are themed: Hawaii 5-0 (pineapple), Hercules (gyro meat), etc. The lunch menu also contains a variety of sandwiches, ranging from the Reuben to a grilled chicken club to two kinds of gyros.
On a lunch visit, I ordered the Hercules ($10.99), which proved to be one of the better burgers around. No kidding. At a half pound, it was topped gyro meat, tzatziki sauce and feta cheese and served with hand-cut fries (another thumbs up!) and dill pickle spear. It was a lot of food, I ended up taking half of it home. Gelastopoulos may want to consider adding some smaller-portion entrees for breakfast and lunch at a reduced price.
Since I ordered the burger, it came with a promotional/complimentary cup of lemon chicken soup — a nice touch. Grade: B+
The key to a diner’s success is a quick turnaround, and Flapjacks nailed it on both of my visits. Our breakfasts came out of the kitchen in less than five minutes, and the burger I ordered on my lunch visit arrived in eight minutes. I had the same the server, Amanda, both times. She did a great job keeping the coffee cup full and making sure everything was OK. Grade: A.
The restaurant looks pretty much the same as it did when it was Dempsey’s. At the entrance is a long bar that still needs a foot rail for single seating. It opens into the dining room filled with wood booths along the walls and tall tables in the middle.
The dining room has five TVs, although the one at the back didn’t seem to be working on both of my visits. There’s also a TV behind the bar. The wall decor is a mix of decorated mirrors and canned art food prints. With it being so close to campus, Gelastopoulos may want to “Husker” it up a bit. Grade: C.
The breakfast menu contains a fair share of vegetarian-friendly options: a veggie skillet (onion, tomato, green peppers, mushrooms, cheddar cheese), a veggie omelet, pancakes and French toast. Outside of appetizers (cheese sticks, mac and cheese bites, fried pickle fries, handcut fries and onion rings), the only veggie dish is a Greek salad. Gluten-free options are not notated in the menu. Grade: C+